Burlesque Bookshelf is dedicated to the memory of Julie Vogt aka Dr. Uberblonde, whose idea for this ongoing series was to offer reviews and commentary on the various books about burlesque. Even as Julie suggested it, she quickly admitted that there never seemed to be enough time for everything. For Julie, it was, sadly, all too true: She passed away on December 4th, 2011, at the tender age of 38. She is survived by her husband, Todd, and son, Miles. —Ed.
Lili St. Cyr: Goddess of Love Incarnate, by Leslie Zemeckis
September 7th, 2015
Leslie Zemeckis has written a definitive biography on the life of the legendary burlesque star Lili St. Cyr (1917-1999) and also an informative insight into the history of the times that helped shape and create the star.
Goddess of Love Incarnate: The Life of Stripteuse Lili St. Cyr is thoroughly researched and documented (the end notes run more than 20 pages), you will feel like you’ve danced in Lili’s heels, sipped champagne with her onboard a luxury liner to Europe, and heard the applause of the standing room only audiences. You will feel the love and rejection from the men in Lili’s life including six husbands and numerous boyfriends such as Orson Welles and Victor Mature.
Leslie Zemeckis captures Lili’s defiance and independence illustrating how Lili created herself and then re-invented herself over the 30 years of her career, bringing a smart, business savvy to burlesque. She mastered the ability to manipulate the press, the audience and her boyfriends.
Lili St. Cyr was the first burlesque star to appear in a Las Vegas casino, the first to headline the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, the first to perform a reverse strip, to perform in a bathtub, the first to have her own maid on stage! She had bit parts in lots of movies but was too independent to actively pursue a career in the film industry. She liked doing things her way and didn’t want to be bothered memorizing lines or being “directed” in scenes.
The book is divided into sections, each concentrating on a particular phase of Lili’s tumultuous life starting with her childhood and the discovery that her mom was actually her grandmother and a sister was actually her mother. The first section is the “Cinderella” phase when Lili first reinvents herself, going from a life of poverty to the featured attraction on a burlesque stage. She manages to compartmentalize her private and public life.
Flashbacks throughout the book take the reader from the glamorous life of a young and beautiful woman and back to the elderly woman (aka Norma Desmond), crippled with arthritis and hooked on drugs living in a tiny apartment, selling old photos and writing letters to her fans.
Numerous photos depict Lili with family, boyfriends, fans, and onstage. There are dozens of beautiful publicity photos.
When I started in burlesque in 1966, my choreographer Chris Starr, a burlesque star in the 1950s, told me that Lili had been the highest paid burlesque performer ever. Lili designed and made all her own clothing and costumes and, later in life, the exclusive line of lingerie that would bear her name.
Many of the names in the book were recognizable because I worked with them, including comics Monkey Kirkland and Dexter Maitland. I also know burlesque legends Dixie Evans and Tempest Storm, Russ Meyers, Blaze Starr and comic Joe E. Ross.
Lili St. Cyr knew what she wanted and she used everything she had to get it, her beauty, her brains, and men . . . lots of men. If you couldn’t help her you were out of her life. Leslie Zemeckis brings a wealth of burlesque history to Goddess of Love Incarnate: The Life of Stripteuse Lili St. Cyr; a fascinating tale of love and life lived in front of the spotlight. There is something in this book for everyone including how to succeed in burlesque by working your beautiful ass off!
—Dusty Summers, Legend of Burlesque
About The Author
LESLIE ZEMECKIS is the author of Behind the Burly Q, the definitive history of burlesque. She wrote/produced/directed the acclaimed documentary based on the book, which has been championed by USA Today and The New Yorker. Behind the Burly Q has been optioned for a television series and a pilot is under development. Zemeckis is currently releasing Bound by Flesh, a multi-award-winning documentary about vaudeville Siamese twin superstars Daisy and Violet Hilton. She is an actress and filmmaker.